Diversity marketing: when not to ask or tell

In an agnostic business environment found in most parts of the Western world it is expected that purveyors of products and services will not let their preferences and/or prejudices play a role in excluding  customers based on the latter's personal profile. In a melting pot economy like the US the probabilty that one's customer base is different to the ownership profile is 1. Customers who feel unrecognized  will most surely vote with their feet. If they are specifically excluded it can lead to more woes than a one time revenue loss. 

Apart from it being illegal it makes eminent to sense to be inclusionary rather than exclusionary as long as a business is capable of meeting customers' expectations. Nevertheless, rational business decisions that result in signifcant accretions to revenue do not always prevail. That seems to have been the case with at least one hospitality operation which deliberately chose to be inhospitable to a potential client.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story on how the owners of the somewhat infelicitously named Wildflower Inn in Montpelier, VT refused to hold a reception at their Inn as they "feel that (they) can(not) offer (their) personal services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same-sex couples. The (Catholic) owners  insisted that applying Vermont's Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act would violate their right to free speech and freedom of association by forcing them to hold "expressive events." While they certainly have a right to their views, operating an Inn clearly requires a suspension of their personal preferences to comply with the law. Not only did they spurn a substantial ($35,000) addition to their revenue but likely will be spending significantly more monies defending a lawsuit.

Individual businesses apart, jurisdictions, including most recently New York, are beginning to reap windfalls from laws that have enabled a wider mix of customers for event spaces. Mexico City preceded New York by nearly a year in legalizing gay marriage and found that tourism has soared since then. Officials in the government's Officina de Turismo Lesbico-Gay Bisexual y Transexual say the city netted nearly half a million dollars in the second half of last year. Prior to Mexico City's move, Buenos Aires garnered much of the business coming from that niche.

Further afield in India, for long a gay-unfriendly country, New Delhi's  Hindustan Times newspaper has a report headlined "Happy Times for Gay Travellers". The report notes that as "more and more people in the country are recognising gay rights, travel and tour operators, too, have lapped up the opportunity to woo the gay community (with) a number of travel agencies set(ting) up shop in the city catering entirely to gay travellers. And an observer there makes an obvious comment saying that "This will actually help boost the country‚Äôs tourism."


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Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.